Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD
“Going by another road” characterizes many of our retirement experiences. We have intentions for our retirement, and then we have a dream that reorients our lives toward a new destination.
One of my favorite Christmas stories portrays the visit of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12). Following a star, these spiritual leaders from Persia (possibly ancestors of today’s Zoroastrianism) journey to visit the Holy Child. They intend to return to report their findings to King Herod after paying homage to the baby Jesus, but then have a dream warning them not to return to Herod. As the scripture reports, “they left for their own country by another road” (Matthew 2:12).
“Going by another road” characterizes many of our retirement experiences. We have intentions for our retirement, and then we have a dream that reorients our lives toward a new destination. We can choose to disregard the dream and stay on familiar paths, or we can follow the dream toward new visions of retirement. Perhaps, a health or relational issue intervenes, and we have to change course, discovering unexpected possibilities in the limitations of the concrete realities of our lives.
President Jimmy Carter says that the two most creative times of our adult lives are our first year in college and beginning our retirement. I can attest to the wisdom of President Carter’s observation. Since retiring from full-time ministry almost eighteen months ago, I have had a burst of creativity as a writer and teacher. I haven’t “failed” retirement, as some admonish. I limit my daily study, writing, and teaching to four hours, and I avoid saying “yes” to administrative and financial responsibilities. I don’t feel urgency about my daily tasks and lay down my book and computer if something else comes along with my wife, a friend, or grandchildren. When I feel the onset of a sense of anxiety over tasks I’ve taken on, I remind myself that I am choosing to teach this class or write this book, and then change course for the day or weekend, or change course entirely, dropping one project to embrace another possibility.
I haven’t a clear destination for my future sojourns. I believe that I will continue to do the things I love – writing, teaching, occasional preaching, and study – but when and where I do them is up in the air. I am beginning to travel, with journeys to my 50th high school reunion in California (two years postponed), Iceland with my son and a grandchild, and back home to Cape Cod over the past six weeks. I am looking forward to traveling with my wife and grandchildren for pleasure, talks, and conferences in the years ahead. I am exploring volunteer possibilities related to environmental and peace and justice issues.
I am thankful that I have the health and leisure to choose another path. I’m grateful to the Pension Boards and TIAA for a regular income for my wife (she is also on both pensions) and myself that frees us to experiment and explore and follow our dreams toward unexpected or previously untraveled destinations. We don’t have to work, though my honoraria for classes and consultations is a welcome addition to our travel and home improvement projects.
We are all magi in the making, being called to holy adventures toward novel horizons. We are all receiving dreams and possibilities to lure us toward new retirement adventures. What new roads are you contemplating? Are you receiving guidance from dreams and intuitions? Have you been presented with possibilities that differ from your previous responsibilities in ministry? Has an unexpected encounter caused you to rethink previous plans? Are your current plans in continuity with your past professional life or radically different?
The future is open. Perhaps like the magi you can prepare with prayer and reflection: “listening to your life” and seeing possibilities emerging from your past achievements, taking time to experiment with paths not taken in the past, and letting synchronous encounters, hunches, insights, and dreams guide your footsteps. A star beckons, and God is with you as you journey by other roads.